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The only safe sex is no sex

Sexually transmitted diseases are becoming epidemic, especially among teens

Posted with permission:

The Report, January 6, 2003, pp. 50, 51

The only safe sex is no sex

Sexually transmitted diseases are becoming epidemic, especially among teens


Dr. Joe McIlhaney, an MD in Austin, Texas, still remembers the last patient in his gynecology practice, 10 years ago.  She flew in from New Jersey for in vitro fertilization (IVF).  She was 41, had been married about two years and could not get pregnant despite months of effort.  She had previously been "very sexually active," says Dr. McIlhaney, and at some point likely contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD).  By the time she came to Dr. McIlhaney, her Fallopian tubes were destroyed and she was suffering from pelvic inflammatory disease.  Her reproductive organs were so ravaged by the disease that even though she became pregnant after IVF, by five months' gestation her baby died in utero.  She will never be able to bear a child.
nosafesex.jpg (14839 bytes)   Despite years of sex education in schools that liberal educators insisted would inform adolescents about safe sexual behaviour, Dr. McIlhaney, who is director of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, says the project has largely backfired.  America is facing an epidemic of STDs, with more than 15 million new STD infections diagnosed each year, just in the U.S.  Teenagers in both Canada and the States, he maintains, have developed a false sense of security, believing that sex is OK as long as they use a condom.  Indeed, thousands of North American organizations directed toward youth have for more than 15 years promoted the idea that condoms equal "safer" sex.  Take, for example, the Web site created by the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Positive Sexuality.   Their "Just Say Yes!" tour (at www.positive.org) tells teens, "Safe sex is always better!  It's fun, and you don't have to worry as much — we're tired of people telling us what we can and can't do.  Condoms are 98% effective when used correctly."
   But what if there is no such thing as "safe sex"?  What if condoms are not effective?  Dr. McIlhaney says the proof is in the epidemic of STDs affecting North Americans, and especially teenagers.  About half of adolescents begin sexual activity between ages 12 and 19, and one-quarter of them have at least one STD, he notes.  About 20% of sexually active teens will contract an STD each year, and by the time young adults are in their 20s many will be carrying two or three STD.  Some will not even know it.  With chlamydia, for example, 85% of the time there will be no symptoms.
   Dr. McIlhaney left a thriving obstetrocs-gynecology private practice, where his "saddest" work was with adult women who could not have children because of an STD contracted as a teenager.  In 1992 he formed the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in an effort to provide the public with factual scientific data on the risks of sexual activity.  He now spends his time educating teenagers and their parents about the latest STD research.
   For example, 5% to 10% of women who are sexually active beginning in their teens will be infected with chlamydia, a disease which can cause sterility, and, in 20% to 40% of women who contract it [suffer from] pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  The bacteria spread into the uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries.  PID can scar and obstruct the Fallopian tubes, making a woman unable to conceive.  If they do conceive, women who suffer PID are seven to 10 times more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy, in which the baby develops outside the uterus.  The baby very rarely survives.  At worst, the mother risks death, and, at the least, she usually needs emergency surgery.
   About three to four million new cases of chlamydia are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.  Indeed, a study five years ago of all female army recruits in the U.S. discovered that 12% of the recruits were carrying chlamydia but had no outward symptoms.   Both sexes can be infected with the bacteria (which can also lead to sterility in men) through sexual contact.  But family planners and educators insist condoms reduce the risk.
   Dr. McIlhaney argues the latest research proves the "reduction" is nearly worthless.  "If you talk to teenagers and their parents, you find they've been told that condoms eliminate the risk of getting an STD," he says.  But a new Harvard study, soon to be published, finds that condoms used 100% of the time only reduce the risk of contracting chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis by 50%.  When condoms are not used 100% of the time, "there is no protection at all," warns Dr. McIlhaney.  The same holds true for herpes.  Condoms offer only partial protection, reducing the risk of getting the disease by about half.
   Figures are still worse for human papilloma virus (HPV), which is blamed for up to 99% of cervical cancers in women, because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact, often in places not covered by a condom.  "Even teens and adults who use a condom every single time are likely to get infected with HPV."  says Dr. McIlhaney.  "There is no protection with condoms."
   Perhaps it is assurances from family planners that condoms will prevent the spread of STDs that explain why — to cite just one stunning statistic — almost half of all black teenagers in the U.S. have genital herpes, and one in five Americans carries the disease.  It may also explain why half of all new chlamydia cases each year are teenage girls aged 15 to 19, and one in 10 U.S. teenagers already has the disease.  Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to STDs, as their cells are still developing and are less able to fight viral infection.  A study from New Mexico found that 50% of all sexually active American teenage girls have HPV, and 20% of adult women are infected with Type 16 HPV, which is one of the cancer-causing strains.   "Canadian figures are much the same," says Dr. McIlhaney.
   What is the solution?  Dr. McIlhaney tells teens the only "safe sex" is "maintaining sexual abstinence until an individual forms a long-term, monogamous relationship, usually marriage, with a non-infected, healthy partner."
   Not everyone thinks that is realistic advice.  "I guess you can tell women to decrease their number of partners, if that's possible," says Dr. Alice Lytwyn, a Toronto pathologist who studies HPV.  "I don't think women can.   Many women are serially monogamous.  How can you guarantee not to be infected unless you never have sex, forever and ever?"
   So how can parents protect their teens?  Dr. McIlhaney says the answer is to tell them the truth: "Warn them that 'safe sex" as an unmarried teen or young adult simply doesn't exist."

Scary Statistics

In 1960, there were two sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that caused the greatest concern among medical doctors: gonorrhea and syphilis.  Herpes was rarely seen.  In the 1970s, one adolescent in 47 contracted an STD.  Today, that figure is one in four, and there are now over  25 STDs which are contracted primarily through sexual activity, 50 to 100 different types of human papilloma virus (HPV) and perhaps another 50 diseases which may be passed through sexual activity.
   About 15 million new STD infections occur each year in the U.S., one-quarter of them in people younger than 20.  A recent study of 18- to 22-year-old sexually active women showed 50% were infected with HPV at some time during the three-year study period.  A sexually transmitted disease is responsible for more than 99% of cervical cancers, and nearly all abnormal Pap smears.  Using a condom, even 100% of the time, does not eliminate the risk of an STD.

Related Article:

  • Still legal prey at 14, by Kevin Michael Grace
    New federal divorce and child-protection amendments anger family advocates

Index to more articles from The REPORT


Copyright 2003 United Western Communications Ltd.
All Rights Reserved.


See also other sources of information relating to the escalating epidemic of STDs and what can be done about STDs and to curb the epidemic:

Note: What many pieces of advice often don't mention is that sexual intercourse is not the only way by which STDs can be transmitted.  For example, virtually all STDs (and many other diseases) can and will be transmitted when intravenous drug users share needles, but that is not all. Improperly sterilized needles used in a doctor's offices, clinics and hospitals, for instance, are one of the major reasons for the spread of AIDS in Africa and other underdeveloped nations.
   It must also be stressed that the risk of contracting an STD it far greater with anal than with vaginal intercourse.  The rectum is designed for extrusion, not for intrusion, and is therefore more vulnerable to be an avenue by which STDs can and will be transmitted.  One out of two homosexual men contract an HIV infection, and oral sex isn't safe either.

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Thoughts are Free

Posted 2002 12 29
2003 03 19 (Expanded references to sources of information on STDs)
2006 03 04 (added link to Feminism for Male College Students)